Storm Lake Times, a small family-run Iowa newspaper, won a 2017
Pulitzer Price award for its coverage of issues associated with
farm pollution from local agricultural companies and the failure of
the County to control the agricultural runoff in the area.
The Storm Lake Times covered how the counties in the area allow
too much nitrogen to be released through farm drainage systems into
the river that provides a drinking water source for the
The Des Moines Water Works sued the counties, and the Storm Lake
Times revealed that their defence of the lawsuit was funded by the
Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups. The Des Moines Water
Works sued three counties – Calhoun, Buena Vista and Sac
counties ("Drainage Districts") – for the high
nitrite levels found in the Raccoon River, a primary water source
for Des Moines. The
claim, filed on March 17, 2015, seeks a declaratory judgment
that the Drainage Districts have violated the Clean Water Act and
Iowa Code by failing to comply with the effluent limitations
prescribed by the Clean Water Act's National Pollutant
Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit system and the
state's NPDES program.
The Des Moines Water Works system is a regional water utility
providing drinking water to approximately ½ a million
Iowans. The health risks associated with nitrate contamination
include blue baby syndrome and potential endocrine disruption
impacts and other health risks associated with increased cancer
rates. The environmental risks result in the eutrophication and
development of hypoxic conditions in public water, including the
Gulf of Mexico.
The major source of nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River
watershed is the subsurface drainage system infrastructure created,
managed, maintained, owned and operated by the Drainage Districts
and consist of pipes, ditches, and other conduits that are point
sources that transport high concentrations of nitrate contained in
On March 18, 2017 the federal court
dismissed the action brought by Des Moines Water Works in its
entirety without considering the merits of the case. The court was
procedurally required to dismiss the case after finding that if Des
Moines Water Works could prove an injury, the Drainage Districts
would have no ability to remedy the harm.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that Iowa drainage ditches are
immune from claims for damages or injunctive relief. On this issue,
the court affirmed that such districts have a "limited,
targeted role – to facilitate the drainage of farmland in
order to make it more productive." If a claim cannot be
remedied, meaning that the party against whom the claim is brought
cannot provide a remedy, the federal court has no jurisdiction to
hear the case.
The Des Moines Water Works will have thirty (30) days to decide
whether or not the appeal the judge's order. The claim as
reported by Storm Lake Times has certainly brought increased
attention to Iowa's water quality issue. The Water Quality
Initiative implements the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. There
is also pending legislation to establish a more comprehensive
framework for funding water quality projects. In 2016 over $340
million in state and federal funding was directed towards Iowa
water quality programs.
In Ontario, agricultural runoff and nutrient spreading is
heavily regulated and can be governed by the Drainage Act, Ontario
Water Resources Act and Nutrient Management Act.
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It is relatively common knowledge that the government has a "duty to consult" aboriginal groups when undertaking actions or making decisions that could adversely affect aboriginal rights, aboriginal title and treaty rights.
On April 5, 2017, Environment and Climate Change Canada released the report of an external Expert Panel that was established in August 2016 to review the scope and process of federal environmental assessments under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012.
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Our April 7 post on the report of the Expert Panel reviewing federal environmental assessment processes noted that the report contains recommendations for greater inclusion of Indigenous peoples in federal environmental assessment processes.
Over the past week, the Project Law Blog has been discussing the recommendations set out by the Expert Panel in its report entitled Building Common Ground – A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada, The Final Report of the Expert Panel for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes.
On April 5, 2017 the Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change received her report from an expert panel of four, comprised of three lawyers with significant environmental and aboriginal law experience as well as a retired senior executive of a resource company.
On April 5, 2017, an Expert Panel established by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (the "Panel") released its report, Building Common Ground – A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada, The Final Report of the Expert Panel for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes (the "Report").
Last week we summarized the recommendations set out by the Expert Panel established by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change in its report entitled Building Common Ground – A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada, The Final Report of the Expert Panel for the Review of Environmental Assessment Processes.
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